F1 flexi-wings rules explained as potential fresh saga begins to bubble

Thomas Maher
A wet start at the Canadian GP

A wet start at the Canadian GP

With the topic of flexing front wings starting to rear its head again midway through the F1 2024 season, here’s what the rules say is permitted when it comes to all-important flex.

The flexing of wings in F1 is hardly a new topic – the issue itself crops up on a seemingly regular cycle of every 18 months or so! – but murmurings of discontent amongst the teams regarding just how much some front wings may be flexing have emerged in recent weeks.

Helmut Marko points to Canadian GP TV images

It’s important to stress at this point that no teams have fallen foul of the FIA’s technical regulations at this point, nor is there any current indication that the governing body is set to examine any wings with any greater scrutiny than is the norm.

But, following recent steps forward in pace and performance, it’s perhaps unsurprising that speculation has suggested Red Bull has requested the FIA to take a closer look at Mercedes following the Brackley-based team’s introduction of a new front wing in Monaco – coinciding with a leap in competitiveness.

Reports have also suggested Ferrari’s front wing is being eyed with suspicion by Red Bull.

Speaking to Austria’s OE24, Red Bull’s Helmut Marko was asked the question whether Red Bull had taken any complaint up with the FIA regarding Mercedes and he replied: “You can’t say that.

“From the TV pictures in Montreal, you can clearly see that the wings of [George] Russell and [Lewis] Hamilton are bending noticeably – but the wings had the necessary strength to pass scrutineering.

“It doesn’t surprise me and I don’t know how often we’ve had to check our wings in the past. In the race, the wing then lowers, which ensures better aerodynamics.

“Of course, this will be viewed critically by the competition and not just us.”

PlanetF1.com understands, from multiple sources, that Red Bull has not approached the FIA with any official complaint about Mercedes’ front wing, and that no protests are expected. The Mercedes front wing, as with the rest of the field, has passed all technical scrutineering flexibility tests.

“Everything was fine in Montreal and, in Barcelona and Spielberg, they will have to pass scrutineering again,” Marko said.

“It’s a popular game to push everything to the limit so that it passes during technical scrutineering.”

But while Mercedes may be at the forefront of Marko’s mind in this regard, PlanetF1.com understands McLaren’s front wing flex is also being viewed with some suspicion by rival teams.

The issue may be prevalent up and down the grid, to the extent of ‘mutual assured destruction’ as a single protest against any single team would likely result in numerous counter-protests from rival teams.

For now, if the issue is viewed as being significant to the point of needing intervention, the FIA could consider introducing a technical directive in order to further outline how teams can remain on the right side of the law.

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FIA introduced technical directive to combat flex during 2023 season

Last year, the governing body introduced TD018 which came into effect at the Singapore Grand Prix but had been outlined around the time of the Dutch Grand Prix weekend earlier that season. No team fell foul of any rule-breaking, nor were ever singled out by the FIA, but the governing body sought to tighten up an area it felt was being exploited by the teams.

With F1 teams always doing what’s possible in the grey areas of the rules when it comes to bodywork flexibility, the suspicion was that some had found ways to use variability in the flexibility of a part or in the movement between interconnected parts.

“What we don’t want to see is that, at the joint of, let’s say, a rear beam wing to an endplate that it’s decoupled in any way such that it can rotate about a pivot or it can move laterally or up and down,” said then-FIA single-seater director Tim Goss.

“So we’re saying that you can’t have very localised motion of one component relative to another. The assembly can move as a whole body but we don’t expect to see parts of it being able to translate relative to others.”

The exact nature of what the teams may be doing this year hasn’t been addressed in detail, but a report in Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport claims Red Bull is leading the pushback against the level of flexibility seen at McLaren, Ferrari, and Mercedes.

“Christian Horner told me that the FIA are ‘playing a bit blind’ and claims that everything is fine but to be honest all the front wings pass the technical inspection so it is fine/legal,” reporter Michael Schmidt wrote.

“What happens is that the front wings bend in a specific way, differently at every team, for some outwards, for some the flaps turn backward. The aim is for the front wing to lose downforce at high speeds.”

What do the F1 technical regulations permit?

The technical regulations regarding front wing flexibility are laid out in Article 3.15.4, which explains how front wing flexibility is scrutineered – some tolerance has to be built in as every material will flex to a certain degree.

Loads of 1000 newtons (about 100 kilograms static) is applied along three different points of the wing, in a downward direction, using a 50-millimetre diameter ram. Fitted to a rectangular ram supplied by the team, the amount of deflection is measured relative to the survival cell and along the loading axis.

“When the load is applied symmetrically to both sides of the car, the vertical deflection must be no more than 15mm,” state the rules.

“When the load is applied to only one side of the car, the vertical deflection must be no more than 20mm.

“No part of the trailing edge of any front wing flap is permitted to deflect more than 5mm when a 60-newton force is applied.”

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